What is the value of a Canadian passport in modern times given the questions that remain unanswered with respect to the Canadian government’s alleged complicity in the torture of Ottawa resident Abdullah Almalki?
Almalki spoke to a half-full Steelworkers Hall auditorium (25 Cecil Street) on Nov. 9, sharing a harrowing tale of harassment by the RCMP and members of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) that ultimately led to his torture at the hands of Syrian officials in Damascus over a 22-month period.
My article on the event was published in the Toronto Community News on Nov. 19.
Almalki claims he was wrongly targeted by the Mounties and CSIS a member of Al-Qaeda and then subsequently left to rot in a Syrian torture house. He said Canadian embassy officials in Damascus did nil to help him much less check on him to see if his rights as a Canadian citizen were being honoured.
After being released by the Syrians because they felt he was not a member of Al-Qaeda and despite having his name cleared by the secretive Iacobucci inquiry (a process he was not allowed to participate in), Almalki has yet to hear an apology.
“My reputation has been destroyed; what can be worse than being called ‘an imminent threat’ (to national security)? Even the label, ‘suspected terrorist’, it’s enough to make anyone afraid of you,” he remarked. “My life has been stolen away.”
Almalki’s hour-long talk included graphic descriptions of the brutality he was subjected to: he was blindfolded, whipped with electrical cable, bound and kept for hours in uncomfortable and painful positions, kicked, beaten, and stuffed into a grave-like cell. But it’s the very first slap across the face he took from a Syrian torturer that haunts him the most.
“I remember that slap and the humiliation I felt from it. That slap dehumanized me.”
It’s a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching story from two perspectives: Almalki’s and his family’s and for the average Canadian that fancies our country as a law-abiding global citizen. But the story told by Almalki would suggest the federal government, the Mounties, and CSIS, are despicably brutal, contradictory, and running amok without a leash.
Matthew Barrens, spokesperson for Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture, said Canada is a country that is involved in torture and that our government’s complicity in such things pre-dates the George W. Bush era.
“This is something that is historical. You speak to someone from Chile, from El Salvador, from Greece, from many other countries and there is a Canadian connection in terms of the torture they’ve experienced,” he said.
Recalling a book written by Tadeusz Borowski, a victim of the Nazi German Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII, Barrens made a chilling connection.
“In Auschwitz, there was a group of men whose job was to receive the trains as they came into the camp, help unload the passengers, escort them to the ovens, and that was it; that was their job,” he said. “The name of this group of people who did the escorting and the provision of human material for mass murder and torture, they were called ‘the Canada Men’.”
Almalki’s allegations, the plight of Omar Khadr, and Pavel Kulisek’s situation in Mexico all raise some uncomfortable questions with respect to the value of the Canadian passport (among other things).
The U.S. Government doesn’t hesitate to react when one of its residents has been imprisoned or arrested in another country regardless of that individual’s alleged wrongdoing.
Shouldn’t our federal government move swiftly to defend the rights of its citizens if/when in trouble abroad?